No Employment Protections For Medicinal Cannabis Patients In New Mexico

Aug 8, 2014

Medicinal Marijuana patient Robert Pack says Hastings Book store withdrew his job offer after he failed a drug test even though he is a registered medicinal marijuana patient
Credit Simon Thompson

Robert Pack was working as the manager of ticketing and audience services for Monterrey Symphony Orchestra in Carmel, California, when he was diagnosed with adult onset epilepsy.

“I had my first seizure at work” he says.

To get it under control doctors prescribed him a string of different pharmaceuticals, the only one that worked gave him debilitating nausea, anxiety and difficulty sleeping, so his doctor recommended using cannabis medicinally.

“Let me just say that Cannabis is the absolute best anti nausea medication in the world absolutely the best it immediately mitigated the nausea. It immediately took care of the anxiety and my appetite improved it became more normal” he says.

Pack has used it twice a day, everyday since then. Despite living in California years after medicinal use of marijuana became legal he says there was still a stigma attached to it.

“Oh yeah you know if you go to a dinner party people will say you bring the weed you know this kind of thing. It is perceived as a big kind of joke particularly if like I said you don’t look sick” he says.

Not wanting to risk his job, Pack didn’t tell his employer and was able to continue working while managing his health issues.

But it didn’t last, eventually the death of his mother brought him back to Carlsbad New Mexico, where he was offered a job as an assistant manager at Hastings books store, if he could pass a drug test.

“They withdrew the job offer because I did test positive for cannabis use and I pointed out to them that New Mexico was a legal state that didn’t matter, I pointed out to them that I had no criminal record, that didn’t matter my work record my experience none of that mattered"  he says.

"They asked again  why , why  were you at a party? Did you happen to take in some smoke some where and I said no I am a medical cannabis patient" he says.

Arizona and four other states have laws stopping employers from discriminating against medicinal marijuana patients. New Mexico doesn’t.

But New Mexico District 33 State Representative Bill McCamley says state protections are largely powerless in the face of federal marijuana policy. 

“Until there is a court case to decide which is superior or the federal government gets out of the business it makes it really tough to even have conversations about passing these laws because these questions are going to come up and we are just not going to have answer” he says.

One such case filed in Albuquerque against Presbyterian healthcare services may change that. Medicinal marijuana advocates like Pack hope it sets a precedent for protecting patients.  The woman’s lawyer is using the New Mexico Human Rights Act as the basis for the lawsuit.

While it is litigated Pack says patients are finding their own ways around employer drug testing.

“If you have a smoke shop in your town  you can go get a kit that will help you pass a drug test" he says.

One of the most common is Strip NC, a $15.00,  7 day detox product, with the stated function of cleansing the body of toxins ingested through the air, food and water.

But type Strip NC in to Google and this is what comes up,

“How to pass a drug test”,  “Does Strip NC work,” “Used Strip NC but failed test please help”

Pack told the regional management at Hastings he was a cannabis patient medicating twice daily.  But he says they told him to take the drug test anyway.

“They were kind of giving me the wink to go and get a masking kit and cover it up” he says.

But he refused to do cover it up.

“I am legal medical cannabis patient in a legal medical cannabis state I have nothing to be ashamed of and I shouldn’t have to lie to get  a job that I am qualified for” he says.

Pack has since retired, he says not by choice but because of the medicine he takes so he lives off the family farm and spends time doing medicinal advocacy in the state. He says most medicinal marijuana patients in New Mexico don’t have that option.

Pack co-founded  the Southeast New Mexico Medical  Cannabis Alliance and his advocacy work continues for those who face employment discrimination because of the medicine they’ve been prescribed.

Statement on behalf of Presbyterian Healthcare Services:

Donna Smith, a physician’s assistant, worked for an outside staffing agency – Advantage Locums – and was going to work an assignment at a Presbyterian facility. She was not applying to be, nor was she, a direct employee of Presbyterian Healthcare Services, and was not terminated from any such position. Upon learning of the positive test for marijuana, Presbyterian informed the staffing agency that we did not wish to continue her assignment at Presbyterian.  Presbyterian did not ask Ms. Smith’s outside staffing agency to terminate its employment of her. Employees and contracted personnel (including Ms. Smith) who work in clinical settings at Presbyterian Healthcare Services are required to take a drug test. The use of medical marijuana is not recognized by federal law and Presbyterian has a mandate under federal law to provide a drug free workplace. Presbyterian is committed to patient safety and we believe that a drug free workplace is a key component.